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PlaygroundEquipment Blog
Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Benefits of a Second Language

Photo by: states4hexchange (flickr)

More and more schools across the country, and across the globe, are requiring students to obtain foreign language credits in order to graduate, especially at the high school and college levels. These requirements are often met with criticism from both parents and students: why force someone to learn a language that they may never end up using? A person can easily go through life knowing a single language, especially since it often seems like most people in the world speak English anyway.

It is easy to simply imagine a second language as being a tool which may or may not come in handy in certain very specific situations. However, the benefits of having another language at your disposal may pale in comparison to actually learning one; in this case, it just might be about the journey rather than the destination. If schools were only meant to impart practical skills, why teach art, or literature, or calculus rather than how to fill out tax forms? Like any of those subjects, the study of language is more about expanding the ways that students think and view the world around them than it is about the memorization of particular facts.

Although language requirements are more common at higher levels of education, a lot of the cognitive benefits of language development are most transformative when the learner is young. By learning a second language at the same time that they learn their primary one, children will intuitively pick up on connections between words which they otherwise might not notice. A surprising number of words have roots in other languages, and knowing the backgrounds of those words can lead to a deeper understanding of them. For example, an early Spanish learner will likely add the word biblioteca, which means library. Having that knowledge will affect how they learn and understand certain English words, like ‘bibliography’ or ‘bibliophile’. In this case, knowing Spanish would help that student make the connection that all three of these words relate to books.

Beyond the etymology of individual words, other languages can show learners a new way of looking at the grammar and syntax of the English language. Other Latin-based languages like Spanish and French conjugate all of their verbs, much to the annoyance of people learning these languages. What this essentially means is that verbs are all modified based on how they are used in a sentence, similarly to how we would use the word run for the present tense, and ran for the past tense. While this seems like an unimportant and needlessly complicated step, it makes the language much more precise, and becomes easy and almost unconscious after enough practice. This forces learners to understand more obscure verb forms, such as past participle or subjunctive, and be aware of the tenses of words that they are using.

It seems reasonable to be concerned that learning two languages at once would confuse a child; having to learn and remember two words for everything, and two completely different patterns of speech simultaneously seems almost impossible. However, repeated studies such as this one by two Cornell University linguistic researchers have shown this not to be the case. Barbara Lust, a linguistics expert and director of Cornell’s Language Acquisition Lab, summed up their findings by saying “Cognitive advantages follow from becoming bilingual. These cognitive advantages can contribute to a child's future academic success."

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Monday, March 27, 2017

Lyme Disease Info and Tips

Photo by: U.S. Department of Agriculture (flickr)
Most parents and guardians already have a long mental list of things to worry about when keeping children safe. One thing that might not appear on that list, or at least not very high up on it, is tick bites. Unfortunately, in recent months there has been a significant surge of Lyme Disease, a bacterial disease carried by ticks, which can cause serious and often permanent health problems if left untreated. Experts have predicted that this trend will continue, and 2017 may be one of the worst years for the disease yet. The purpose of this blog entry is not to cause undue panic or add to anyone’s list of worries, but to spread some helpful information about Lyme Disease, how to avoid it, and how to identify an infection quickly if one occurs.

First, a personal aside: I understand that tick-borne disease isn’t most people’s favorite thing to read about, and it wouldn’t typically be my first choice for a writing topic. In fact I never thought about it, or knew about it, until a friend of mine discovered, too late, that she had been afflicted. She now has to deal with joint pain and stiffness, heart palpitations, and short-term memory loss; although her outlook remains staggeringly positive despite being unable to enjoy her previously active lifestyle, and occasionally finding familiar words missing from her vocabulary. Years passed, and we unfortunately fell out of touch. But after hearing about this year’s rise in infections I was reminded of her condition, and decided that spreading information to arm others against it was worthy of a blog entry.

Ticks come in a variety of species, all of which are potential carriers of harmful bacteria. However, Blacklegged Ticks, sometimes called Deer Ticks, are the almost exclusive carriers of Lyme Disease. Although Deer Ticks inhabit most of the eastern half of the United States, 95 % of infections occur within the northern half of that range. While residents of the northeastern quarter of the United States are by far the most at risk, others still have reason for some amount of caution. Cases have been reported nationwide and in Europe, and the disease’s territory continues to spread.

Ticks aren’t born with the bacteria which causes Lyme disease, but acquire it from rodents and birds. Only ticks that move from animal to human hosts are threats. White-footed mice are the most common transmitters, and a surge in their populations during 2016, along with the ongoing wave of unseasonably warm weather, have disease experts worried. Usually, a Deer Tick won’t have time to pass the bacteria to a human unless they’ve been attached for at least a day and a half, but unfortunately they often go undetected because they are so small and often hide in scalp, armpit, or body hair. Most infections come from immature nymphs, since they are roughly the size of poppy seeds and are active during the spring and summer months, when more people are outside. Older ticks, which grow to about 5 millimeters and can thrive during cooler months, are responsible for fewer cases.

Wooded areas with tall grass and vegetation (especially in the northeast) are natural Deer tick habitats. Anyone who visits these locations should consider taking the following precautions:
  • Wear long pants and socks that reduce your areas of exposed skin
  • Wear insect repellent
  • After returning indoors, bathe or shower as soon as possible
  • Adults should carefully inspect their hair, as well as any other potential hiding places such as behind knees and ears.
  • Children and pets who play in these areas should also be looked over.
If you find a tick on your child, pet, or self, don’t panic. Tick bites are unpleasant, but usually not dangerous. Remove the tick with tweezers, then wash the area where it was found. However, you should be on the lookout for rashes or fevers. If either develops within a few weeks of the tick’s removal, it is a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible. Most people who are infected will first notice a characteristic rash, which appears at the site of the tick bite within a month. These can grow quite large, and after a while may develop a telltale bulls-eye shape. These rashes usually aren’t itchy or painful, which is why they often go unreported. Other early symptoms include chills, headaches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and muscle and joint aches.

Left unchecked, the rashes and joint pain will worsen, affecting more areas of the body. Other late-stage symptoms include facial palsy, headaches, short-term memory loss, heart problems, dizziness, and nerve pain. Luckily, doctors can identify the disease with a blood test, and if done quickly enough, they can then prescribe antibiotics which can completely eradicate it from a person’s body.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Seven Types of Plastic and What to Do with Them

Photo by: Lisa Risager (flickr)
Pollution is bad. Recycling is good. These are statements that most people would agree with by now. But recycling isn’t always that simple, especially when it comes to plastic. It seems like plastic is in just about everything we use these days, in one form or another. But what makes the plastic in a phone different than the plastic in a shopping bag? If they seem like entirely different materials, it’s because in many ways they are. Plastics can be mixed with different additives which change their properties. This allows them to fill a range of different purposes, but also affects how they should be used and disposed of. Some plastics cannot be recycled normally, and some can even be toxic if used improperly. It is often impossible to tell what is in a piece of plastic just by looking at it.

Luckily, the ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) has devised a quick way to tell different types of plastic apart. Plastic products which can be recycled will typically have the universal recycling symbol somewhere on them. But what many people don’t notice is the small number in the middle of the three arrows. This number, ranging from 1 to 7, is called the RIC (Resin Identification Code). It tells you what group the plastic belongs to, what chemicals have been added to it, and what should be done with it. This guide should help illuminate the important differences between the seven categories of plastic.

1 – PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

PET is one of the most common types of plastic, and one of the easiest to recycle. It is usually thin and transparent, which makes it good for liquid containers like plastic bottles. Well-meaning individuals may also want to reuse these products, but this should be avoided with food and drink containers. PET plastic is notorious for not only releasing carcinogens as it breaks down, but also for being easily contaminated by bacteria. Fortunately, it is highly sought after by recyclers, who shred it into fibers which can be woven into all kinds of synthetic fabric products like clothing, bags, and furniture.

Common uses: water and soda bottles, food packages, polyester fibers

Recycling: Accepted in almost any recycling bin or curbside recycling

2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)

HDPE is a much heavier grade of plastic than PET. While it is also sometimes used in food and drink containers, its strength and molecular stability allow it to be used in other products as well. It is one of the few types of plastic which does not break down and release toxic chemicals when exposed to water or extreme temperatures, which is why it is used for many sturdy outdoor structures like picnic tables and playgrounds. This also means it great for food containers, since it can be safely reused and microwaved. It should be recycled whenever possible, as it can easily be remade into a variety of new things.

Common uses: playground equipment, milk jugs, tupperware, detergent and cleaning product containers, plastic lumber, trash cans

Recycling: Accepted in almost any recycling bin or curbside recycling

3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Polyvinyl Chloride (which is sometimes simply referred to as vinyl, and abbreviated as ‘V’) is perhaps the most environmentally damaging type of plastic, and poses the biggest health risks if used improperly. It is full of harmful chemicals which are released as toxic fumes when it is burned, and can contaminate any food that they come in contact with. However, some companies do still use them in food packaging. Even its manufacturing process is known for releasing a large quantity of toxic byproducts. PVC products are not accepted by most recycling services. Those who are especially dedicated to the environment may be able to find a nearby industrial location to accept them, like a plastic lumber company. However, an easier way to help is to simply avoid them whenever possible.

Common uses: containers for many household products, electrical wire coating, siding, window frames, pipes

Recycling: Rarely accepted by any recycling services

4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene)

Low-Density Polyethylene is much cheaper, lighter, and more flexible than the high-density version. It is usually made into thin plastic sheets, like in grocery bags, although it can also be made into thicker products. All four types of plastic listed so far are commonly used in the bottles of various liquid household products (which is why the RIC number is so useful in telling them apart), but LDPE is mostly used in squeezable bottles, due to its flexibility. It is relatively toxin-free, and safe to use and reuse for food storage. Until recently LDPE was not considered recyclable, but as environmental concerns become increasingly urgent, more and more recycling centers have adapted ways to process it. Consider contacting your local recycling service to see if they accept it.

Common uses: sandwich bags, grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, squeeze bottles, carpeting

Recycling: Accepted by some, but not all, recycling services.

5 – PP (Polypropylene)

Polypropylene is a durable lightweight plastic which is prized for its impermeability to moisture and liquids. Its sturdiness and high melting point mean that it won’t release dangerous chemicals, even when heated. Like LDPE, it is just beginning to be used by recycling centers, and may or may not be accepted depending on your location.

Common uses: yogurt containers, condiment bottles, drinking straws, packing tape, diapers, plastic buckets and bottle caps

Recycling: Accepted by some, but not all, recycling services.

6 – PS (Polystyrene)

Polystyrene is most recognizable as styrofoam, but can also be molded into a more rigid plastic used in things like CD cases. Styrofoam is particularly troublesome for the environment because it does not hold in toxins well, and has a very high volume for its density. Despite being a common container for leftover or takeout food, it should never be microwaved or reheated. It is possible to recycle, but most places won’t bother with it since gathering and transporting it often wastes more resources than can be reclaimed from it anyway. However, the number of centers that will take it is steadily increasing.

Common uses: disposable cups and plates, packing peanuts, to-go boxes, meat trays, egg cartons, CD cases, pill bottles

Recycling: Occasionally accepted by specialty recycling centers

7 – Other

Yes, this one is kind of a cop-out. This category includes any plastic whose composition doesn’t fall into one of the other six categories, and even includes items which are a blend of one or more of them. ‘Other’ plastics are difficult to speak generally about, since it is such a broad category. They are usually good to avoid, since they may or may not release toxins and may or may not be recyclable. However, this category does also include newer types of plastic, including some which are plant-based and biodegradable. Determining which of these products to put in your recycling bin must be done on a case by case basis.

Common uses: nylon, sunglasses, CDs, cases for electronic devices, car parts, water coolers, bullet-proof materials

Recycling: Some products may be accepted, but usually not


Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Friday, February 10, 2017

Grammar Check, Correct, Click, and Post

Photo by Brad Fults (Flickr)
As a former journalist and current writer, I’m passionate about correct grammar and spelling. After all, I’m a former elementary school spelling bee champion and once placed sixth in the state. But enough bragging, in this age of digital and text communication, does good grammar and correct spelling matter? We’re seeing that it does.

The U.S. Department of Education’s misspelling of W.E.B. Du Bois in a tweet and then its botched apology caused laughter and eye rolling among many people in both political parties. When I was working as a journalist, I got calls when I had a typo in my story or even worse, when there were typos in our headlines, (and there were). Typos and misspellings show a lack of attention to details as well as a “we don’t care what this looks like” attitude, even if you really do care and just did not have time, or the mistake just got through. (Which sometimes happens. Nobody’s perfect.)

Disruptive Communications asked 1,003 UK consumers in 2013 what they hate most about brands they follow in social media. The top answer was spelling or grammar mistakes, which 42.5 percent of consumers said bothered them. Gender did not make a difference either, as 38.9 percent of men and 39.6 percent of women said it bothered them.

A Harris poll conducted for’s 2015 Grammar Gripes found even higher percentages in the U.S. That poll found 74 percent of people between 18 and 34 were irritated when the found a mistake on social media, and 65 percent said improper grammar was their biggest pet peeve.

But bad grammar doesn’t just erode confidence and reputation. It can also have an impact on sales. A 2011 study found grammar and spelling errors reduce online sales by half. Bad reputation and eroded confidence has turned into lost money, and that’s something that speaks to everyone.

So what can you do to correct your grammar and spelling? Running spelling and grammar checks on everything you write can help, but they don’t catch everything. If you misspell a word but that misspelling is still a word in itself, spell check won’t catch that. It also doesn’t catch some grammar errors or plain awkward wording. Lifehack has some great reasons why we shouldn’t just rely on spell check to fix all our errors here.

So the next time your children ask why they must know the difference between a noun and verb, adjective and participle and how to use a semicolon tell them it could cost them in money and reputation. People are watching to see if grammar is used correctly. Good communication can mean the difference in many circumstances.


Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Thursday is National Toothache Day...Let's try not to celebrate it!

Photo by BRENDA MICHELLE (Flickr)
Thursday (February 9) is National Toothache Day. While this is not exactly a day to be celebrated (I do not want a toothache at any time), it does serve as a reminder for how important dental health is in both children and adults.

The origins of National Toothache Day remain shrouded in mystery according to but the guess is it was a dentist who started it, and he or she probably had good reason to. According to the World Health Organization Oral Health Fact-sheet, 60 to 90 percent of children and 100 percent of adults have dental cavities. However, in the United States only 52.4 percent of adults in the United States reported visiting a dentist every six months in 2014, 15.4 percent reported visiting once every year and another 11 percent reported visiting once every two to three years. That means 21.2 percent of adults had not visited a dentist in at least three years, according to the American Dental Association Patient Statistics.

More than that plan on continuing that trend as well, as 22.9 percent of adults indicated they are either unsure or definitely do not plan to visit a dentist in the next 12 months. The top reasons for not going include cost (which 40.7 percent of people said), not needing dental care (at least, that is what they think, at 32.7 percent), and not having time to get to the dentist (which 14.7 percent of people said) according to numbers from the ADA.

Children are getting slightly better treatment, as 83 percent of children in the United States aged 2-17 had at least one dental visit in the past year. However, 17.5 percent of children aged 5-19 years have untreated tooth decay 27.4 adults had untreated tooth decay.

Untreated tooth decay can lead to a number of problems. A personal friend recently had all of his teeth surgically removed. He had not been to a dentist for three years and his mouth was too far gone to save. He is getting dentures, but the process will not be cheap. Without insurance the costs of the procedure would have exceeded $10,000.

Even though that is an extreme situation, it does prove the idiom in this case that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". I have personally skipped dental appointments before and it only leads to more pain and cost than I would have otherwise incurred had I just continued regular dental appointments. Keep in mind I do brush my teeth regularly.

The chart in the Action for Dental Health: Bringing Disease Prevention into Communities from the ADA shows the cost of preventive measures versus the cost of more extreme options when prevention is taken. It is obvious that although prevention may cost money, foregoing it can cost more.

The lesson learned is to take the time to see a dentist, keep your teeth taken care of, and make regular appointments. Yes, it takes time, and it can take money, but the consequences can be worse. Try not to neglect home care including brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day as recommended by the ADA. A clean dental bill of health is possible, but not if you do not see your dental provider. If you do not have a dentist, ask your insurance provider or use the Mouth Healthy directory to find an ADA member dentist near you.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Cyberbullying: A Real Problem and How-To Minimize a Child's Risk

Photo by J_O_I_D (Flickr)
Playground bullying is still a problem in most schools and areas today, though there have been plenty of efforts to stop it, like this video ( However, a new study shows parents are more concerned about cyber-bullying than traditional playground bullying, and their concern is based in some fact.

Just as a refresher, cyber-bullying is loosely defined as any bullying that happens online. It can take many forms including insulting text or instant messages, identity theft and assumption and posting disparaging comments and pictures on people’s social media profiles.

In a new study by cyber-security firm Symantec (Children are 'more likely to be bullied online than in the playground', parents claim) nearly half of parents, or 48 percent, said they believed their children were more likely to be bullied online than on the playground. Not only does this reflect the changing times that we live in, the fact that I’m writing about this area to you on an online blog should be one indication, but this is a concern that should and is being addressed.

More than 75 percent of parents in the survey said they thought children were more exposed to online bullying than they were five years ago. Some of the numbers back that up. More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and about the same number have engaged in cyber-bullying.

Over 25 percent of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones or on the internet as well. Statistics from the Cyberbullying research center show that the last three years have seen the highest rates of cyber-bullying, though the rate has gone down from its high in 2014.

However the study also said despite these concerns more than a quarter of parents allow internet access to their children before 6 years old. Though at the same time 70 percent said technology should be used to monitor their children’s online experience.

There are simple things parents can do minimize their child’s risk of online bullying. Those include knowing your child’s online habits and not introducing them to the online world too early. It also means checking their online communications at times, either yourself or through a friend, and maintain open lines of verbal and in person communication between yourself and your children. Encourage your children to tell you if they think they or someone they know are being cyber-bullied and tell them you will not take their technology away if you think they are.

The delicate balance you need to reach with your children is to know what they are doing online while still respecting their privacy. If you try to pry too much, your children will not trust you and think you are trying to creep in on all parts of their lives. Always let them know you respect their communication and value their judgment, and are just trying to make sure they are safe. As an adult you have more power to do something about it if bullying happens than they do, and that is one reason parents need to be aware.

Cyber-bullying will probably be a problem as long as there is an internet, but taking simple steps can help prevent it from happening to your child or stopping it cold once it starts. Check out more cyber-bullying and traditional bullying resources at

Learn about the author: Parker Jones
Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Five Steps to Making Recess Fun for Everyone

Photo by will kay (Flickr)
When I was in elementary school, I thought recess was unplanned spontaneity. We went out and played on the swings, jungle gym, bars and slides. Some of us played kickball or baseball or whatever was in season and some came up with their own games and scenarios out of their own imagination. I really didn’t think there was a plan to anything, just let the kids play and if they get into a fight stop it before it gets too serious and someone gets hurt.

But I’ve found out recently through my time as an education reporter and my work here for that like most things, recess takes a certain amount of planning and commitment to pull off well. From planning who those supervisors of recess will be to giving children plenty of options I’ve found there’s more than meets the eye to an unstructured time of play, and the CDC and Shape America, the Society of Health and Physical Educators, agree. They recently released their Strategies for Recess in Schools report.

Children are supposed to get 60 minutes of play a day according to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans and recess is an important part of that. The report recommends at least 20 minutes of recess a day, but I remember mine was closer to 45. It goes on to list five general steps for making recess a success in any learning environment and gives 19 specific ways to implement them.

The first is to make leadership decisions. This basically boils down to deciding what kind of recess you want, putting policies in writing and training people to meet those policies. This makes sense because without a vision, anything can go off the rails, even an unstructured time of play.

The second is communicate and force behavioral and safety expectations. In other words, make sure everyone knows your vision and what it takes to keep kids safe while playing and train your employees and supervisors accordingly.

The third is create an environment supportive of physical activity. When your students get to recess, make sure they have something to occupy their mind and body so they have the most productive recess possible. This includes both indoor and outdoor recess. I know when we had indoor recess in school, there was not a lot of physical activity involved, and this report offers some suggestions to remedy that.
The fourth is to engage the school community to support recess. This includes establishing roles and responsibilities and getting children involved in planning recess. This is an interesting concept and one I wish I had when I was in school. Asking children their ideas and then listening is a great way to make sure recess is a time everyone enjoys.

The last strategy the report mentions is gathering information on recess. This means following physical activity and tracking student performance because of that. Everyone needs proof that something is working, and recess is no different. If it isn’t working, it needs to be changed, right?

Those are the strategies the CDC and Shape America recommends, and the report is worth a read. It goes into much more detail than I have room to hear and will only take about 15 minutes. However, it offers some great suggestions for bringing some order to the chaos and keeping recess fun and rewarding for everyone.

Learn about the author: Parker Jones